What is growth hacking?
You've probably heard of growth hacking by now, but if not, check out the blog post we wrote recently which explains the concept and a basic outline of how it works. Then you'll understand what all the fuss is about!
And I'm sure we don't need to stress the importance of growth when you're starting a business. It's what you live for. Whether you're looking for website hits, user numbers, or paid subscribers, when you're a founder, growth is your number one goal.
But, did you know there are two types of growth?
It's simple. Growth hacking can bring phases of rapid growth and phases of steady growth - both of which are equally important. Rapid growth, as the name would suggest, gets your user numbers up super quickly, but that means it's unsustainable. Whereas, steady growth is slower but more consistent.
Start-ups need a combination of both if they're going to be successful. And when growth hacking, you'll find different tactics will lead to different types of growth. So, you should be aiming for activities of each type.
You're probably itching to get down to the nitty gritty, but before you do, there's a couple of important pieces of prep you need to do first.
Your audience – a re-cap
If you read our recent blog on growth hacking, you may remember that we talked about the importance of knowing your customer. And it's worth just expanding on this because it is CRITICAL for all the tactics we're about the suggest.
So, before you do anything, make sure you know in detail who's going to buy your product. That means their age, gender, job, location, what they're interested in (in and outside work), where they spend their time (online and offline) and what brands and products they like – all the intel you can lay your hands on.
Find out through any means possible, whether that means heading down to a café or event where your customers hang out, or spending time in online groups and chat forums. If you've got some customers already, then spend some time with them and ask them loads of questions. You need to do some serious customer stalking!
This knowledge will be invaluable when brainstorming and putting your ideas into practice.
Make sure you can track what you're doing
The second essential piece of groundwork is making sure that you have systems in place to measure the effectiveness of what you're doing. And since growth is likely to be heavily focused around your website, online referrals and content hits, you'll need to become familiar with the Google Analytics URL Builder.
The URL Builder basically allows you to attribute growth and track how effective each of your tactics and channels are, i.e. where your different users or buyers are coming from. So, if you're posting an offer on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, it allows you to create a different link for each one, so you can track how much traffic you're getting from which sources.
And the good thing is, it's easy! Just go to the URL Builder here and follow the instructions. Then for every link you create, your Google Analytics account will include a breakdown of the traffic generated by that link. So, you can see quickly what's working and what's not.
While tracking links aren't the only way of measuring your success, they are a good place to start, as they work well for a variety of different tactics.
Now down to business
Now you know who you're targeting and how to track what you're doing, it's time to get stuck in! Here are our first five fantastic hacks that are guaranteed to get your growth moving:
Like it or not, a huge proportion of your customers are likely to find you via a Google search, so ranking for your brand name and some of your keywords is essential. But before you start ploughing money into Google Adwords, which will drain your budget pretty quickly, there are some simple ways to optimise your site, without spending a penny on advertising.
- Quality content: Google wants to see original, useful, relevant content on your site, so make sure you spend time getting it right. For an idea of how Google judges 'quality content', take a look at their official guidelines.
- Page titles and descriptions: Make sure every page has a title describing briefly and clearly what the page is about, as well as a the meta descriptor, which is the text search engines use to understand the relevance of that page. You can alter these via your website provider, e.g. Wordpress. The page titles and descriptions should be unique, no longer than 150 words and should effectively advertise to your readers what is on that page.
- Optimise for keywords: Search engines nowadays are too smart to be tricked by keyword stuffing, but you should still aim to pepper keywords throughout your copy. You can use Google Adwords to research the popularity of different search terms, and this will also help give you an idea of the language that your customers are using around your product or service. A good trick isn't to go for the most popular keywords, as you don't have much hope ranking for them in the early days. Instead choose keywords that have a relatively good search volume but aren't too competitive. Then try to include a few of these throughout your copy – as naturally as possible! You can try a 30-day free trial with Moz to test your keywords and look for recommendations.
- Custom landing pages for keywords: Better still, create separate landing pages dedicated to the keywords most relevant to your business, to boost your Google juice even further.
Internal links between pages: Having links between pages on your site can massively improve your SEO but there are a few rules:
- Link using keyword anchor text or the full article/page title (not words like 'click here'
- Make sure links are useful for readers and not just created for search engines
- Don't overdo it – 4/5 per page is sufficient
Optimising your website
Once you've driven people to your website, you need to make sure that they stick around and take the action that you're looking for, whether that's entering their email address, requesting a quote or making a purchase. Just the smallest tweaks can make a big difference but it requires a lot of trials and testing to hit on the perfect combination of language, value proposition and calls to action.
Your website needs to be clear, concise, easy to navigate and have plenty of sign up buttons to make capturing potential customers as easy as possible. Here are some hacks you can try to get it right:
- Make sure your customer experience is flawless. Try platforms such as Optimizely to experiment with different layouts and personalisations, tailored to the needs of your target audience.
- Use Unbounce, an application that simplifies the process of A/B testing your landing page, so you can tweak the language, positioning of CTAs and content, use of colours and images, to quickly see what leads to the highest conversion.
- Block content without sign up: Capturing a contact email for your visitors is invaluable, so you can keep in touch and promote any relevant content or offers in the future. To incentivise visitors to enter their email, keep some of your content protected and only available to 'subscribers', with a pop-up where readers can enter their details. You'll find your database will grow much faster as a result.
- Build excitement into your Beta
When you're in the early stages of building your online business, a fantastic way of generating your first users is to ask people to test and feedback on your product or service. There are loads of people out there who like to help exciting and enthusiastic start-ups, and beta testing gets you in front of a captive audience, while also helping you improve your product. You can submit the opportunity on sites such as betabound and centercode, to attract users and start building a community of advocates.
You can also use beta testing as an opportunity to build in a feeling of exclusivity, making people intrigued to know who you are and what you're about. One option is to create an 'invite only' waiting list for your beta test a couple of months before you're ready to go live to create that aura of excitement and anticipation.
- Integrations and partnerships
If your customer can sign up to your service using one of their already existing accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Google it can increase sign-ups by 50%. The big social media platforms offer tools to help you do this including Facebook Login and Sign in with Twitter and this can make life much easier for you and your users.
You should also think about other ways to integrate your site with existing, larger platforms, a bit like the famous Airbnb hack where users' posts were automatically posted on Craigslist, or when PayPal became huge through its tie-up with eBay.
Is there a competitor or complementary product/service that you should be integrating with, to increase the reach of your brand and improve the user experience for your customers?
Using us as an example - as a business insurance provider, we're looking to integrate our offering with companies that sell office or co-working space, sites where people go to start a business, and with small business accountants. This has the potential to increase our reach, provide third part endorsement of the brand, and make life easier for our customers.
Last but not least, one of the most effective ways to grow your user base quickly is to give your current users a great reason to tell their friends about it. So, think Uber, which still to this day offers users a free ride if they recommend a friend. Or another fab example is Monzo bank, which encouraged sign-ups to its beta test by enabling those in line to jump up the waiting list by getting their friends to join (refer to point 3).
Make sharing part of the user journey and most importantly of all, make it easy for people. It should be automated, e.g. every customer receives an automated email with a personalized referral link to forward onto a friend. Or it can be built into the app, as is the case with Uber.
Incentivised referrals can also be offered on social media, such as a discount to those who like and share a tweet or follow you on Facebook.
Creating incredibly useful, shareable content (and promoting the hell out of it)
If you don't already have one, a great place to start is by creating your own content hub – for most businesses that means a blog on your website – where you can publish articles, videos and guides to draw in your target audience.
This shouldn't be simply somewhere to spout off your sales messages, but instead your chance to provide content within your niche that is valuable to your audience, through being either entertaining or useful. You should be able to work this out using your target audience research!
So, if your target audience is dog owners, you can create content around dog care, dog fashions and comment around news in the dog world! Whereas if you're targeting travel lovers, it should cover the latest destinations, travel photography or advice on creating the perfect holiday wardrobe. The possibilities are endless!
You need to publish regularly – ideally at least one blog or video per week – but crucially you need to make sure it gets in front of your target audience, through some sneaky promotional techniques. Obviously, you should be posting it on all your social channels – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. – but there are some other ways you can spread the net even wider. Here's a few to consider:
- Social advertising: Don't spend tonnes on paid advertising during your start-up phase as you'll find you haemorrhage money pretty quickly. However, it can be worth putting a little bit of budget behind some sponsored posts on Facebook and Twitter to boost the reach of your content. You can find details on how to do this on Facebook here and on Twitter here
- Post to social groups popular with your audience: Identify where on social media your niche hangs out, whether that's a Facebook group, LinkedIn community, or in specific chat forums, and post links to your content there. It's important that it doesn't seem random and spammy, so try to position it in response to a query or conversation on a specific topic.
- Reddit: As of 2016, this social news aggregator had 542 million monthly visitors (234 million unique users), ranking #11 most visited web-site in the US and #25 in the world. Submitting your content here can therefore increase your traffic exponentially. However, you need to be careful to follow certain etiquette when posting to "The Front Page of the Internet". Do it right and you'll see a measurable stream of targeted traffic but do it wrong and you'll be down-voted and no-one will see your post or worse yet, it'll be removed. So, when you first sign up, comment and like posts to build up your karma score and before you post something, make sure it's unique, fun and distributed in a targeted subreddit group. This is essential because if your content ticks these boxes, it will get upvoted and therefore more likely to be seen by others! Bottom line? The more you put into Reddit, the more you'll get out of it.
- Medium, Postwaves, Inbound, Quora: Similarly, you can post your content on these sites, either in response to existing queries or by creating your own questions. You should also consider creating original content for these sites in response to existing queries on there. Then once you've responded you can promote amongst your networks and encourage upvotes! Do bear in mind though that your content needs to be relevant, and adheres to their (sometimes strict!) T's & C's.
Be prolific on social media
Assuming you already have social media accounts set up, you're probably wondering how you can take these from being passive profiles with your company news and updates, to actually driving engagement and making a difference to your business.
Here's a few basic hacks that can help:
- Use Klout: Klout measures your social media profile to see how influential you are, while also showing you who are the biggest influencers in your sector and target areas. An average Klout score is 40 and anything over 50 is pretty good! Hit over 63 and you're in the top 5%. Setting up a profile is quick and easy, giving you an immediate view of how you're doing on different channels as well as suggestions of people you should be engaging with.
- Follow and engage with key influencers: The more you put into Twitter, the more you'll get out, so once you know who your top influencers are (we recommend making specific lists), spend time tracking and engaging with them, by retweeting/reposting content, 'favouriting' or liking their posts, and starting conversations about their content. By doing so, you're sure to catch their attention, and that of their followers, thereby boosting your own profile.
- Use Crowdfire: Another useful tool, this enables you to analyse your followers and the people you follow on Twitter, to see who follows you back (or not) and who is inactive. It's a great way of streamlining your account for maximum engagement and effectiveness.
- Join groups and communities: There are some fantastic communities on both Facebook and LinkedIn where your target audience will spend time asking questions and sharing information. Make sure your part of these groups and try to be helpful by offering advice and help on your areas of expertise. Same goes for hashtags on Twitter.
- Merge online and offline: Every time you go to an event or conference, make sure you're using the event hashtag, commenting around the topics being discussed and engaging with others who are also getting involved. You'll leave the event with a whole bunch of new followers to show for your hard work.
- Sniply: Another awesome tool that allows you to add a call to action to every link you share. Although the content may not be yours you can still reap the rewards by driving people to your website and business.
- Jump on the back of trends: Social media is real time, and trends can shift in an instant. So, keep an eye on what's trending at any particular moment, and see if there is a way you can get involved. Whether that's by creating a funny meme or commenting on a topical issue with the relevant hashtag, it's a great way of catching attention.
- Engaging photos: As a rule of thumb, always use a photo on Twitter and try to make it as eye-catching as possible. Research has shown that tweets with photos get 313% more engagement, so get creative and think outside of the box. You can even use free platforms such as Canva to design your own if you don't have access to Photoshop.
Guest blog for other sites
Once you've built up a solid bank of your own content, you can start reaching out to influencers in your space – online publications, influential bloggers, or complementary businesses – to see if you can guest blog for them. Before you make an approach, check what kinds of topics they usually cover and look out for any gaps in their content that you might be able to fill. Then drop them an email suggesting an article on that topic. The backlinks to your website will also help improve your SEO (refer to point 3). When approaching other businesses, you can also suggest a quid pro quo arrangement where they also provide a piece for your site – so it's a win-win!
Get listed on Product Hunt
In case you haven't already heard of it, Product Hunt is THE place to be seen for new online products that are going places. Being featured here can lead to a huge spike in traffic, subscriptions and downloads and increased brand awareness amongst an influential audience of early adopters.
Anyone can submit a new product to Product Hunt, BUT appearing on the homepage is no easy feat, and only a handful of startups achieve this. So, it's important to have a carefully thought out plan that's integrated with your overall launch campaign to ensure you have the best possible chance of being featured.
Here's a few tips:
- Create an extensive email list ahead of being featured – this enables you to share it with as many people as possible who can upvote your product (although you shouldn't directly ask them to do this!)
- Make sure your profile is enticing, includes a catchy (not cheesy) tagline and reflects your brand personality
- Try to get your product posted by an influential 'hunter' – this gives you more chance of being featured and ultimately seen by more people
- Integrate with social media – be ready to promote your listing via social on the day of launch using the @producthunt twitter handle, as well as responding and reacting to any mentions and discussions about the product
- Integrate with your content, e.g. support with a blog post
- Engage with the Product Hunt community – make sure you're ready on launch day to respond to any comments and answer any questions regarding the product on the site itself
- Bespoke landing page and offer – it can also help to create a specific landing page to welcome hunters and even an offer to sweeten the deal for them!
A quality email database is worth its weight in gold for growing your user base, enabling you to keep in regular contact with your community, updating them about new features, while publicising your content, offers and company news. It's equally valuable for existing and potential customers.
The first stage is to build up your email database, and there are loads of ways that you can do this. Here's a few to try:
- Newsletter subscription on each page of your site
- Ask for contact details to access certain content
- Create a 'sign up' link on your social media pages
- Run an offer or competition that requires an email address to enter
- Include a 'sign up' link in your email signature
- Incentivise your employees to help collect emails
- Incentivise current subscribers to refer a friend to your newsletter
Then once you've built up a decent sized database, you can start running email campaigns, including:
- Automated welcome emails
- Automated 'abandoned shopping cart'
- Nudge emails, e.g. we noticed you haven't used x functionality on the site
- Happy Birthday / Christmas etc. emails
The possibilities are endless. There are various email marketing tools you can use to run campaigns including Mailchimp, which is totally free for small campaigns, and Campaigner, which offers a more sophisticated solution.
And there you have it! Five more of the best hacks to take your business from zero to superhero. Remember, trial and error is key, so keep testing, measuring and tweaking until you discover what works for your business. Throw in a bit of creativity, persistence and hard work, and you'll be hitting those growth targets in no time!